Tuesday, April 30, 2024

"Dear Edna Sloane"

Amy Shearn is the award-winning author of the novels Unseen City, The Mermaid of Brooklyn, and How Far Is the Ocean From Here. She has worked as an editor at Medium, JSTOR, Conde Nast, and other organizations, and has taught creative writing at NYU, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Gotham Writers Workshops, Catapult, Story Studio Chicago, The Resort LIC, and the Yale Writers' Workshop. Shearn's work has appeared in many publications including the New York Times Modern Love column, Slate, Poets & Writers, Literary Hub, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Coastal Living. She has an MFA from the University of Minnesota, and lives in Brooklyn with her two children.

Shearn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dear Edna Sloane, and reported the following:
On this page, Seth Edwards is speaking directly to Edna Sloane. Up until now, he has mostly been writing and posting elsewhere, trying to piece together what happened to her and how he might find her. He sends her, here, a kind of a plea: He articulates that he wants to write something as good as her novel someday, and he also asks her to do an interview with him, which he thinks will be good for his career in media. Then he shares a memory of reading her book on a grassy hill in Iowa City, where he went to graduate school, and describes how the book took over his reality in that moment, and also how thunderstorms feel in Iowa.

This page is an uncannily accurate microcosm of the book as a whole! Like honestly weirdly so.

We have on this page a portrait of Seth’s warring desires – he wants to tell Edna how much he appreciates her work, and at the same time is urging her to do the very thing she has clearly avoided on purpose for nearly 30 years, which is to curate a public persona. And we see the germ of when Seth started to develop both his obsession with her novel and his idea that he somehow deserves literary greatness just because he’s gone to the “right” MFA program. He thinks he understands her so completely, because he relates to her novel’s protagonist. But in this letter, he is proving that in some ways, he’s totally bought into exactly what she’s resisting, i.e. the literary-industrial-complex of it all.
Visit Amy Shearn's website.

The Page 99 Test: How Far Is the Ocean from Here.

Writers Read: Amy Shearn (March 2013).

Q&A with Amy Shearn.

My Book, The Movie: Dear Edna Sloane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 28, 2024

"Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies"

Catherine Mack (she/her) is the pseudonym for the USA Today and Globe & Mail bestselling author of over a dozen novels. Her books are approaching two million copies sold worldwide and have been translated into multiple languages including French, German, and Polish. Television rights to her new novel, Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies, and its sequels sold in a major auction to Fox TV for development into a series, with Mack writing the pilot script. She splits her time between Canada and the US.

Mack applied the Page 69 Test to Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies and reported the following:
Page 69 of Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies begins thusly:
“That asshole.”

“Be nice.”

“Why? He’s refused to blurb me a million times, and his review of Highland Killing in the New York Times called it ‘derivative’.”

“Amazing how good your memory is when it has to do with insults.”
This is an exchange between the main character, Eleanor Dash, and her sister, Harper. It is entirely indicative of the tone of the book and the dynamic between those two characters. They’re talking about a third character, Shek, who is, in fact, an asshole. So yep, yep, yep, ding, ding, ding. From this we know that Eleanor is 1) a writer of mysteries, 2) holds grudges, 3) being reviewed in the New York Times, 4) mad about it, 5) free with her thoughts, opinions, and swear words, and 6) comfortable with whoever she is speaking to. I guess we don’t know that a murder is about to occur, but the title gives that away! So, I’d say the book passed the page 69 test! Woohoo, I love passing tests. Passing is better than failing, don’t you agree?
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 26, 2024

"Death in the Details"

Katie Tietjen is an award-winning writer, teacher, and school librarian. A Frances Glessner Lee enthusiast, she’s traveled thousands of miles to visit her homes, see her nutshells, and even attend her birthday party. Tietjen lives in New England with her husband and two sons.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Death in the Details, her first novel, and reported the following:
On page 69, my main character, Maple, is interacting with Kenny (a young officer in the sheriff’s department) for the first time. He has just driven her home after she discovered a dead body across town:
Kenny nodded once, solemnly. “Sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly.”

Maple barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes. Enough is enough, she decided. Self-reflection was one thing. Sitting here enduring earnest cliches from a kid was another. Steadying the dollhouse with her left hand, Maple opened the door with her right and climbed awkwardly out as Kenny scurried around to the back and pulled Maple’s wheelbarrow out.

“Where can I put this for you, ma’am?”

He was so eager. It made her weary.

“Oh, just leave it there. Thank you, Kenny.” She shifted the dollhouse onto her hip and pulled out her house key from her coat pocket with her free hand.

“Uh, actually, ma’am, it’s Ken,” he said in a deeper voice.

“That’s how my—the sheriff should’ve introduced me.”

Maple’s supply of patient niceties had officially run dry. She let herself in her front door and closed it on Ken-not-Kenny’s goodbye.
Page 69 gives a great little slice of plot and character, as it turns out! At this point in the story, Maple has discovered the body at the center of the mystery and has just met the character who will become her sidekick/ partner. Browsers who turn to this page will get a good sense of both Maple and Kenny’s personalities: her, prickly and brooding and him, eager and earnest.

To me, their relationship is one of the most fun aspects of the book. I had a blast writing their scenes together. They develop a deep mutual respect and friendship as the book progresses, but along the way their vastly different personalities and attitudes cause them to drive each other bonkers on multiple occasions.

My favorite part on page 69 is when she closes the door in his face mid-sentence because he’s irritating her and she just runs out of bandwidth; I think it’s an impulse many of us have, but one we rarely act on. Over the course of the story, she helps him get rid of his rose-colored glasses and he helps her shed some of her cynicism—transitions both of them needed to make in order to move forward in their lives, but likely wouldn’t have been able to make without each other’s influence.
Visit Katie Tietjen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

"Days of Wonder"

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Days of Wonder, With or Without You, Cruel Beautiful World, Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, Girls In Trouble, Coming Back To Me, Living Other Lives, Into Thin Air, Family, Jealousies, Lifelines, and Meeting Rozzy Halfway. Many of her titles were optioned for film, translated into different languages, and condensed in magazines. Many of her titles were Best Books of the Year and Indie Next Picks. A New York Foundation of the Arts Fellow, she was also shortlisted for the Maine Readers Prize, and was a Goldenberg Fiction Prize winner. She recently won an award from the MidAtlantic Arts for portions of her next novel, The Inseparables.

Leavitt applied the Page 69 Test to Days of Wonder and reported the following:
Days of Wonder is written in a dual time line, one section following the characters all the way up to a terrible crime, and the other section is about how their lives unfold afterwards. This page 69 is actually the very first moment in one timeline where we meet young, innocent, naive Ella.

Page 69 begins a new chapter, with Ella, who lives in a poor area of Brooklyn, going to a fancy party on the Upper East Side. What we learn on that page is that she’s afraid to go in, afraid she isn’t pretty enough or wearing the right clothes. Afraid she doesn’t belong. And at the same time, like in any Romeo & Juliet part of a story (or West Side Story, as the case may be), she has this feeling that something might happen to her.

This is a book about two kids, Ella and Jude, who fall in love, and don’t want to be separated by Jude’s abusive dad, so they fantasize killing him. And then the fantasy starts to become reality, except it’s an attempted murder neither one remembers. If you knew the opening of the book, or if you knew what the book was about, this page 69 would make you want to know more, because this is the Before part of the dark After. I thought seeing her so young and girlish juxtaposed nicely with the start of the novel, where not only is she clearly not innocent, but she’s getting out of prison in a media storm and desperate to recreate a new life and new identity.
Learn more about the book and author at Caroline Leavitt's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Pictures of You.

My Book, the Movie: Pictures of You.

The Page 69 Test: Is This Tomorrow.

My Book, The Movie: Is This Tomorrow.

My Book, The Movie: Cruel Beautiful World.

The Page 69 Test: Cruel Beautiful World.

Writers Read: Caroline Leavitt (October 2016).

My Book, The Movie: Days of Wonder.

Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2024

"The Good Deed"

Helen Benedict, a British-American professor at Columbia University, is the author of seven previous novels, six books of nonfiction, and a play. Her newest novel is The Good Deed.

The Good Deed, set in a refugee camp in Greece, comes out of the research Benedict conducted for her 2022 nonfiction book, Map of Hope and Sorrow, co-authored with Syrian writer and refugee, Eyad Awwadawnan and endorsed by Jessica Bruder (Nomadland), Dina Nayari (The Ungrateful Refugee) and Christy Lefteri (The Beekeeper of Aleppo), among others. That book earned PEN's Jean Stein Grant for Literary Oral History in 2021 and praise from The New York Times, The Guardian, Kirkus Reviews, and elsewhere.

Benedict applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Deed and reported the following:
What a fun idea this Page 69 Test is! And it works pretty well for my novel, The Good Deed, which is set in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos.

On this page, two of the main characters in the novel are talking: 19-year-old Amina, a refugee from Syria who badly misses the mother who refused to flee with her; and middle-aged Nafisa, a refugee from Sudan who lost her own children to war and has grown resigned and yet bitter about fate. Amina looks up to Nafisa, who has become something of a mother figure for her.

The two women are sitting on a mountainside above the refugee camp in which they live. The passage is told in Amina's voice and she is talking about when she first went home after being held and tortured in prison for no more reason than writing a poem that Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, did not like.

Amina says to Nafisa;
"Yet when I came home and said, "Look, Mama, I'm alive. I'm alive for you," she deserted me only a few days later. How could she have done that?"

Nafisa shifts against the tree and brushes off the ants and dust that have collected on her skirt. "She must have had her reasons. Mothers usually do."

"Even a reason to abandon me?"

Nafisa bows her head at this. But offers no reply.

Seeing that I have caused her pain, I change the subject.

"Auntie, do you remember that old woman tourist we saw the other day? The one who nodded at us?"

"The one with the ugly hat? Yes, she took me for coffee."

"She did? Why, what did she want?"

Nafisa shrugs. "I neither know nor care. But what about her?"

"I only wonder what it would be like to change places with her; for her to be me and me her."

"You wouldn't want to be that woman."
"That woman" is the one who does the "good deed" of the book's title, and causes a great deal of trouble after doing it.
Learn more about Helen Benedict and her work.

My Book, The Movie: Sand Queen.

The Page 69 Test: Sand Queen.

The Page 69 Test: Wolf Season.

Q&A with Helen Benedict.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2024


Victor Lodato is a playwright and the author of the novels Edgar and Lucy and Mathilda Savitch, winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts, his stories and essays regularly appear in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, and elsewhere. His novels and plays have been translated into eighteen languages.

Lodato applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Honey, and reported the following:
At 82, Honey has returned to New Jersey, after living for nearly fifty years in Los Angeles. For most of her life she’s wanted nothing to do with her mob family, but now, in her twilight years, she feels compelled to reckon with her violent past. Back in her hometown, she rekindles a romance with a childhood friend, Dominic Sparra. On page 69, we find Honey, not long after Dominic’s death, retreating into her closet—a large walk-in where, lately, she’s been spending more and more time.

From page 69:
The nice thing about the closet was that it was absolutely quiet. And since it was enormous, she’d been able to fit a lounge chair in there, along with a footstool, a reading lamp, a small table. It was very cozy, and the smell was always calming: the peat of leather shoes, the fresh milk of clean cotton, the deep green swell of cedar, not to mention the phantoms of old perfume trapped in wool or silk.

From the footstool, Honey retrieved a book she’d recently purchased, a feministic potboiler about women in prison. She settled herself in the chair, but after reading for less than a minute, she stopped, stared, breathed. The breathing took some effort.

At the funeral parlor she’d made light of her position, assuming that at her age she’d be a pro when it came to grief (so much experience!). But now the thought of Nicky collapsed her. He was, she knew, the last romance of her life. Selfishly, she was mourning that as well.

While it was true that Honey had always done just fine on her own, it would be dishonest to suggest that she didn’t adore being in love. Over the years she’d had so many wonderful affairs. Her sadness about Nicky was like a flare, lighting up all her other romances, both major and minor.

The boy in the tweed suit who’d taken her into the hills above campus. Another boy, a biology major, who made his own wine out of rhubarb. And during a summer at home, there’d been Pio Fini, briefly. Many boys, briefly. Then, in her thirties, the curly-headed cherub at the Self-Realization Center, who chanted during intercourse. In New York, the skinny stockbroker naked in black socks; the Polish swimmer with the girlish bottom. California had brought treasures, too. The cat-eyed actor in Laurel Canyon, twelve years her junior. Most of her lovers, of course, had been older—though no one more than Mr. Hal, who’d had thirty-four years on her, and with whom she’d stayed the longest, well over a decade.

“But who was your great love?” Lara sometimes asked, as if life were a novel. The question always annoyed Honey. Why must she decide? They were all great loves, in one way or another. Apparently some gals looked down on such a view—either that, or they felt sorry for Honey.
It’s tricky to say whether page 69 passes the test. What’s slightly misleading is the deep internality of this particular passage. While such interior monologues happen throughout the book, they’re not the norm; the novel is chock-full of action and dialogue and in-the-moment scenes. I’m a former playwright, and my time in the theater has influenced how I work as a novelist. I recall my very first editor saying that she thought playwrights made good novelists because “they know something has to happen.”

Also, this page might lead you to believe that the engine of this book is one of reminiscence. While Honey’s past is an important part of the novel—and we do get several glimpses of that time—most of the book happens in the present. The older Honey becomes tangled up, once again, with her mob family; she also gets deeply involved with a neighbor, a young woman in an abusive relationship.

The last thing I’ll say about how this page doesn’t quite communicate the spirit of the novel is that this passage is more wistful than much of the book. Here, we don’t get Honey’s wit, her humor, her grit, nor do we get an accurate sense of the high-stakes melodrama of the story—which at times made me want to call this book an opera, rather than a novel.

Where page 69 passes the test is that it sets up a few things that are very important to how the story unfolds. Honey’s closet is the location of a pivotal scene in the book—the climax, really—where the past and the present collide in a moment of shocking catharsis. Also, this page, in which Honey muses on her romantic affairs, hints at the idea of the book as a love story—which it is, in many ways. Of course, this passage seems to suggest that Honey’s love story is over—when, in fact, the most unexpected romance of her life is yet to come.
Visit Victor Lodato's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mathilda Savitch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

"Hart Island"

Gary Zebrun lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His first novel, Someone You Know, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Of his second novel, Only the Lonely, Kirkus wrote, “[this] ruminative novel captivates through the complexity and vulnerability of its characters and the excellence of its prose, polished to a luminous transparency.” He is the recipient of Yaddo, MacDowell, and Breadloaf fellowships and has published work in the New York Times, the New Republic, Iowa Review, American Scholar, Sewanee, The Believer, The Common, and elsewhere.

Zebrun applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hart Island, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Bad juju,” Jesús says. “Gold Arches dude dead is bad juju.”

Even Hemins and Booker shake their heads. “What kind of parent does that?” Hemins asks.

“Stupid or perverted,” Booker says.

Franklin and Al untie the ropes and shout up to Sal that all the lines are unhitched. Booker remains under the canvas cover with Hemins and the crew. In the wheelhouse, Sal switches on the navigation to help him through the haze.

Zookie turns to Jesús. “Did you hear about the tsunami?”

“Wha that, Japanese fish? I don’t eat it raw.”

“Shit, Jesús. You ain’t that dumb. It’s the big one. A tidal wave,” Franklin says.

“Somewhere in the South Pacific. It swept away a whole island,” Al says.

Jason says, “It could happen here.”

“Wha?” Jesús asks.

“A lot of death,” Jason says.

“Shit, we don’t need mo boxes,” Jesús says.

A hard rain starts, striking the tarp so insistently that the crew is quiet the rest of the way. When they dock at Hart Island, the downpour has eased to a drizzle and the fog has pretty much lifted. A cold easterly pinprick spray off the Sound strafes their faces.

“Not going to get much better than this,” Booker shouts up to Sal. “Supposed to come down hard off and on all day.” Turning to Hemins and the crew, he says, “Let’s get these coffins in the ground.”

“You the boss,” Jesús says, trying to put a hint of mojo back in his voice.

Jesús and Zookie carry a coffin, Beatrice Shepard 022407. “What kind of name is Beatrice?” Zookie asks.

“A beauty,” Jesús says. “She light. I bet she black, she sings like Summer Walker.”

“Who’s she?”

“Ain’t sayin’. She on Spotify. When you get out, you find Summer. Man, she all sugar.”

Al hears them talking and says, “Shit, Shepard isn’t a black name.”
How surprised I was when I came upon Page 69! While it doesn’t represent the key conflicts in the novel, nor are its characters the major ones, it does remind me of how much fun I had imagining the burial crew of Hart Island, five Rikers' inmates, and their reaction to burying the indigent, unclaimed and unknown in New York City’s potter’s field. The scenes where they interact with one another and react to the task of caring for the dead in their final moments engaged me; I was able to imagine how these “outcasts” would identify with the dead, with curiosity, respect, and sometimes humor. The Gold Arches dude in the first sentence refers to a coffin marked “Ronald McDonald 042406,” which they had just loaded onto the ferry before heading off to Hart Island. There are numerous scenes throughout the novel that portray these five men who leave the hellhole of Rikers Island prison for the day and find a kind of solace in the work of being gravediggers and witnesses to lives that would have been completely forgotten in their final moments if it weren’t for these Rikers’ angels.

The protagonist of the novel is Sal Cusumano, the ferryboat captain, who hauls the crew and coffins to Hart Island. In its essence, I think, Hart Island is a novel about two families: Sal’s family on Staten Island that includes mafia ties; his adopted brother who became his lover; his brother, a dirty NYC homicide detective; and his mother who’s going deeper and deeper into dementia. The second family is what Sal finds at New York City’s potter’s field: the island itself and its long history, the Rikers burial crew and its two DOC keepers, and especially the dead, new and old, buried there on Long Island Sound.
Visit Gary Zebrun's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2024

"The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers"

Samuel Burr is a TV producer who has worked on popular factual shows including the BAFTA-nominated Secret Life of 4-Year-Olds. Burr's writing was selected for Penguin's WriteNow scheme and in 2021 he graduated from the Faber Academy. He previously studied at Westminster Film School.

Burr applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers, and reported the following:
They say puzzling is good for the old noggin,” the driver declared. “Stops you going doolally when you’re old.”

On page 69 of The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers, two best friends meet for the first time. But, as we uncover later in the book, ‘all best friends were strangers once’. In this scene, set in 1980, Pip Allsbrook (the revered crossword compiler from The Times) has hailed a taxi on Westminster Bridge in London. The driver behind the wheel, unusually in those days, is a woman. Nancy Stone isn’t like Pip. She lives a relatively secluded life with her overbearing mother in the East End and is the secretary of a fan club for a classic TV lothario she’s not ashamed to say she has the hots for. “What I wouldn’t give for a night with that man,” she declares, halfway down the page. And yet, these two women, while on the surface appear very different, have something quite extraordinary in common. They’re both exceptionally bright and are both operating in male worlds. Pip has fought hard to build her reputation as the nation’s most revered (even feared) crossword setter in the old-fashioned broadsheet press. And dear Nancy faces constant misogyny on the roads as she whips around the city in her black cab. “You wanna look where you’re pointing that thing,” a disgruntled male motorist shouts at her through his window when she cuts him off. “It’s not a shopping trolly.”

Not only do we touch on some of the key themes of the book on this page – the allure of puzzles, the feminist experience – we also witness a meeting of minds and the beginning of one of the most important, if unlikely, friendships in the book. Ultimately . . . this is a book about the greatest puzzle of all – finding our place in the world. I hope readers are encouraged to keep reading beyond the 69th page…!
Visit Samuel Burr's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2024

"The World Entire"

Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and has published articles, book reviews, and poetry. In 2019, Perry was the first female writer invited to speak at the venerable Men of Mystery Event. Her short story, "The Kick The Bucket Tour" made the Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2018 list in The Best Mystery Stories.

Perry lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The World Entire, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The World Entire, Ascher Lieb–protagonist, narrator of the novel, orphan, student of mortuary-science, and reformed liar is being led through the back corridors of a mortuary. A mortuary technician friend of Ascher’s boyfriend, Isaac, leads her to the room in which Ascher will spend the next six to eight hours performing shemira–the Jewish ritual of watching over the dead–in this instance––the body of the woman Ascher and Isaac found murdered the day before.

Ascher arrives at the mortuary unsettled and unsure. As a former Jewish burial society volunteer, she’s bathed and prepared the dead for burial, but Ascher has never shared a huge chunk of one-on-one time with a dead person. And she and Isaac had an ugly argument: Isaac is sure the bloody dog they found next to the ravaged woman killed her.

Ascher is sure that the dog is innocent. Now the officious woman leading Ascher through the mortuary is behaving more like a rival than the casual friend Isaac said she was. Are Isaac and this woman closer than he told Ascher?
The woman gestures at two doors with “Biohazard” and “Keep These Doors Closed At All Times” signs screwed into them at the hallway’s end as if she is about to tell me something important about them––then she elbows the wall-panel.

One of the doors gasps open to another hallway.

“I should have mentioned that the restroom is in the back where you came in. The plumbing’s old, so make sure not to flush any tampons or menstrual products.”

Is she joking? Or do I give off a menstrual-product-flusher vibe?

… I follow her past the door to the lounge/kitchen and three more doors, and she speaks again.

“Use of electronics is forbidden when you’re with the decedent––but I’m sure you know that. Just make sure your phone is turned off before you enter, and don’t leave the memorial candle burning if you step out––even for a minute. It’s a fire hazard. And don’t forget to sign in and sign out when you leave. Okay?”

“…Blow out the candle before I leave to do some tampon and menstrual product-flushing. I think I’ll be able to keep all this straight.”

“And make sure to remember that the door on the left is yours––” Isaac’s acquaintance is already walking away, her sharp elbow raised and aimed at the touchless control panel that will free her from me––“and the one on the right is the morgue.”
Things that matter intersect on page 69, which is a sort of precipice for Ascher: Facing the murdered woman alone begins Ascher’s search for a human murderer and her efforts to save the dog, may reveal that Ascher’s relationship with Isaac is beyond repair, and will demonstrate if Ascher has what it takes to accomplish all the above alone.
Visit Jo Perry's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jo Perry & Lola and Lucy.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Better.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Best.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Is Good.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Beautiful.

The Page 69 Test: Pure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny"

Mark Cecil is an author, journalist and host of The Thoughtful Bro show, for which he conducts author interviews with an eclectic roster of award winning and bestselling writers. He has written for LitHub, Writer’s Digest, Cognoscenti, The Millions, Reuters, and Embark Literary Journal, among other publications. He is Head of Strategy for A Mighty Blaze and he has taught writing at Grub Street and The Writers Loft.

Cecil applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny, and reported the following:
I’d never heard of the Page 69 Test till you brought it to my attention, but I love the idea of it—the notion that the part will contain the whole in its microcosm. In the case of my book, the test just happens to work phenomenally well.

In my novel, Bunyan and Henry; Or, The Beautiful Destiny, Paul Bunyan has not become a lumberjack yet. Instead, he is stuck in a miserable life in a mining hamlet called Lump Town. His life is prosaic, brutal and nasty. Long ago, when he was a child, he always heard stories about a magical figure called a Chilali, a mythic being who helps guide a person along his or her “Twisty Path” to the “Beautiful Destiny,” a kind of higher, more authentic kind of life. But as an adult, Bunyan has dismissed his childhood dreams and idealism, and decided that Chilalis aren’t real. He has grown too cynical to believe in such a thing as the “Beautiful Destiny.”

However, when his wife grows ill and his life has begun to fall apart, one day an actual Chilali appears to him. At first, Bunyan is afraid of the idea of following the Twisty Path of the Chilali. It seems dangerously naïve. He thinks he’s going crazy. But on page 69 of my book, he has a change of heart. He seeks out the Chilali in the woods, and on this very page, he decides to begin to follow the Twisty Path.
Suddenly, he heard a voice.

“So, you have decided to embrace your true gift?”

The voice of the Chilali came from behind and above him, cool and ironic as it had been the day before.

“The straight path has failed,” said Bunyan. “But I cannot do this alone.”
To find the Chilali, Bunyan has climbed an enormous, petrified tree. Lump Town itself is covered in ash and soot—a kind of protocapitalist hellscape. But up here in the tree, for the first time in years, Bunyan finds fresh fruit growing. This passage on page 69 not only shows the fantastical setting of the book, but also demonstrates the rewards of beginning to chase the Beautiful Destiny. Now that he has sought out the Chilali, his life has become renewed.
A smell soon struck Bunyan’s nose. A strange smell. A delectable smell.

“What is that?” Bunyan eagerly looked about, his mouth watering.

Moments later Bunyan saw, growing from a crack in the branch, something he had not seen in years: soft, fresh, green, living . . . life. It appeared to be a vine of grapes.

They were strange-looking grapes—small, withered, hard. But they were growing nonetheless, fighting for life here in the smallest of crevices.

He knelt and took one in his hand. A tiny, perfect green sphere. He placed it in his mouth and pressed his teeth down upon it. He felt a cool eruption of juice, followed by overwhelming sweetness. For years, what had he eaten? Crumbly bread, smoked and salted meats, beans out of the tin. He found another, this one misshapen like an eggplant. He ate. More juice. It was ecstasy.
In the following pages, Bunyan will leave Lump Town for good and set out on his grand adventure. But the pivot point of the story happens to occur on page 69, when he finally says yes to the Beautiful Destiny.
Visit Mark Cecil's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

"Mal Goes to War"

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mal Goes to War, Antimatter Blues, Mickey7 (now a motion picture directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Robert Pattinson), Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a nine pound killing machine named Maggie, and the world’s only purebred ratrantula, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

Ashton applied the Page 69 Test to Mal Goes to War and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test is a little tough to apply to Mal Goes to War, for the simple reason that page 69 is the end of a chapter, and only contains a couple short paragraphs of text. So, I’m going to cheat just a bit and include a couple of paragraphs from page 68 to round things out:
With that accomplished, Mal has the opportunity to explore the sensory systems that are now available to him. First, he checks for a direct link to infospace. He doesn’t expect to find one, so he’s not particularly disappointed that none exists. That’s a minor issue. He’s in an aircraft now rather than a human skull, and he’s confident he can find a functioning tower before he runs out of power and crashes. The only actual data connection he finds is through a low-power directional transmitter. Presumably, this connects the drone to whoever had been controlling it prior to Mal’s arrival. He’s also receiving a steady stream of input from an array of onboard sensors, including a visible-wavelength camera mounted on his underside.

He taps that feed, and finds that he’s orbiting directly over a rusty white pickup truck. The bed is full of armed men. As he watches, it comes to a halt.

It comes to a halt in front of a house that he quickly recognizes as the Andreous’ home.

Mrs. Andreou is leaning out of an upstairs window, frantically waving a white pillowcase over her head.

“Kayleigh?” Mal sends. “Are you awake? If you are, please tell Asher that you are about to have visitors.”

There’s no response, of course. Kayleigh can only transmit using her mouth-hole. There’s no way for her to let him know whether she’s heard him or not. Someone is leaning out from the passenger-side window of the pickup, gesturing with one arm toward Mrs. Andreou. He turns his head then, appears to speak to the men in the back. Mal checks to see whether his new body carries any armaments, and is pleasantly surprised to see that in fact there is an air-to-surface missile strapped under each wing.

He is less pleasantly surprised to learn that, in his space-making, he’s deleted the control systems needed to launch them.

“Kayleigh?” Mal sends again. “If you can hear me, you may want to pick up your bat.”
If you were looking for a single page in this book to tell the reader what they’d be in for if they picked it up, you could do a lot worse than this. From this page we can glean that our protagonist isn’t human, that he’s an entity that moves from host to host, not much caring whether he’s currently inhabiting a human body or an armed drone or a network-enabled toaster. We also learn that he has friends, and that they’re trapped in the middle of an a war. They’re obviously in a bad spot at the moment, which also describes the bulk of the book.

The thing we’re missing from this section, though, is the rest of the cast. Mal Goes to War is science fiction, but like most of my work, it’s character-driven science fiction. The main thread of this book follows the efforts of a mismatched band of refugees as they try to find some modicum of safety in the midst of chaos, and much of the fun comes from the ways in which they bounce off of one another. Kayleigh is a genetically modified woman in the body of a child. Asher is Kayleigh’s prisoner-turned-maybe-friend. Pullman is a rich doofus with a set of cerebral implants that turn out to be a perfect vacation home for Mal after Pullman’s dog steals and eats the severed head that Mal had been hanging around in previously. They’re not anyone’s idea of the A-team, but when the world is coming apart at the seams, you take whatever friends you can find.

At the end of the day, I’d probably prefer a page with a bit more dialogue and maybe a laugh or two to this one. This is a funny book, and I’m not sure this page really conveys that. You don’t have to take my word for it, though—you can read the rest of the book and find out for yourself.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

The Page 69 Test: Antimatter Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 7, 2024

"A Killing on the Hill"

Robert Dugoni is a critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and #1 Amazon bestselling author, reaching over 9 million readers worldwide. He is best known for his Tracy Crosswhite police series set in Seattle. He is also the author of the Charles Jenkins espionage series, the David Sloane legal thriller series, and several stand-alone novels including The 7th Canon, Damage Control, The World Played Chess, and Her Deadly Game. His novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell received Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, and Dugoni’s narration won an AudioFile Earphones Award. The Washington Post named his nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary a Best Book of the Year.

Dugoni applied the Page 69 Test to his new thriller, A Killing on the Hill, and reported the following:
Page 69 opens with the line, “Well, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, the guy’s bleeding to death on the floor. So I took out my handkerchief and tried to stop the bleeding, but then Millier says, ‘Leave him be and get the hell out of my club.’”

The speaker is a witness, a boxer who went to Miller’s Pom Pom Club with the murdered boxer, Frankie Ray. He’s recounting what happened to Chief Detective Ernie Blunt. The lines reflect the overall book because this witness soon changes his story and it becomes clear to William Shoemacher, the reporter from the Daily Star newspaper that everyone in Seattle can be bought for a price, and no one can be trusted.
Visit Robert Dugoni's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Wrongful Death.

The Page 69 Test: Bodily Harm.

My Book, The Movie: Bodily Harm.

The Page 69 Test: Murder One.

My Book, The Movie: Murder One.

My Book, The Movie: The Eighth Sister.

The Page 69 Test: The Eighth Sister.

My Book, The Movie: A Cold Trail.

The Page 69 Test: A Cold Trail.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Agent.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Agent.

Q&A with Robert Dugoni.

The Page 69 Test: In Her Tracks.

Writers Read: Robert Dugoni.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 5, 2024

"The Not Quite Enlightened Sleuth"

Verlin Darrow is currently a psychotherapist who lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near the Monterey Bay in northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary. Darrow is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Before bowing to the need for higher education, a much younger Darrow ran a punch press in a sheetmetal factory, drove a taxi, worked as a night janitor, shoveled asphalt on a road crew, and installed wood flooring. He missed being blown up by Mt. St. Helens by ten minutes, survived the 1985 Mexico City earthquake (8 on the Richter scale), and (so far) has successfully weathered his own internal disasters.

Darrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Not Quite Enlightened Sleuth, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’d decided on a frontal assault once I’d seen Dennis’s smug expression.

He paused and assembled his features into what passed for humility—with most people, that is. His eyes reminded me of a hound I’d known—a conniving creature who was always stealing his sibling’s food.

“I loved your mother very much, and God knows why, she loved me back. I would never harm a hair on her head. Truly.”

“I’d like to believe you, but what you said back in your hospital room was alarming,” I told him.

“Look,” he began, leaning forward, “I can see you’re sharp, and you know I put up a front sometimes. It’s hard for me to let people in—let them see who I really am. But I’m leveling with you here. I did not kill your mother.”

“But you think someone else did? Is that what you were saying yesterday?”

He leaned back again and crossed his arms. “I said I’m taking care of that, and I will.”

“You think there was foul play?”

“I do.” He kept his face studiously neutral.

“And you think you know who it was?” I asked.

“I do.”

“Why not just go to the police—or tell me, at least?” I asked. “Don’t I have a right to know?”

“It’s complicated. I need you to trust me.”

“Dennis, you’re the person I trust least in the world right now. Everything about you seems to be inauthentic.”

He wasn’t offended. In fact, he didn’t seem to care at all.
My page 69 definitely passes the test. Although several basic elements aren’t revealed—the narrator is a former Buddhist nun, for example—the interplay between this insightful protagonist trying to get the truth out of non-truth tellers is typical. Throughout my mystery, it’s hard for Ivy to know who she can trust, who isn’t who they purport to be, and who is a possible suspect. Her Buddhist precepts both help and hinder her in her search for the truth.

In this scene, Ivy is trying to brace the stepfather she’s never met after her mother may have been murdered. Her bi-polar sister certainly has thought so from the outset, and now it appears she is right. Unfortunately, shortly after page 69, Dennis is murdered as well and his background as a smuggler comes to light, complicating the case.
Visit Verlin Darrow's website.

Writers Read: Verlin Darrow (May 2023).

My Book, The Movie: Murder for Liar.

The Page 69 Test: Murder for Liar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

"An Inconvenient Wife"

Karen E. Olson is the winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award and a Shamus Award finalist. She is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries, the Tattoo Shop mysteries, and the Black Hat thrillers. Olson was a longtime editor, both in newspapers and at Yale. She lives in North Haven, Connecticut.

Olson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, An Inconvenient Wife, and reported the following:
Page 69 is from one of the chapters from the point of view of Anna, Hank Tudor’s fourth wife:
She could hear Hank and Tom talking on the back porch below Lizzie’s room, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. It was best she didn’t know, anyway. There were a lot of things it was best not knowing. That’s why she never asked Caitlyn about Alex Culpepper.

Anna closed the drawer and picked up the laundry basket. Lizzie was leaning against the railing at the top of the stairs, her red hair escaping from the French braid to form little tendrils around her face. Anna was struck again by how solemn her expression always was. The girl rarely smiled, although when she did, it lit up the whole room.

“Daddy’s leaving.”

Anna felt a surge of maternal love and reached around to hug her.

“He’ll be back,” she whispered.

“I know.” Lizzie pulled away and stood up straighter, her head high. She was a tough one, but sadly it was because she had to be. “He says you and Joan will keep us safe.”

Anna nodded. “That’s right. We won’t let anything happen to you or Teddy.”

Lizzie cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “But it’s really Will and Murph who are protecting all of us, right?”

Leave it to Lizzie to know what was what. “That’s right.”

“They couldn’t protect that woman, though, could they? So how safe are we, really?”
This page is a good snapshot of Anna’s character. “There were a lot of things it was best not knowing” is a theme throughout the book, indicating the secrets tucked away among Hank’s relationships and how Anna knows she has to keep those secrets close to the vest. This page also shows the deep relationship between Anna and Hank’s daughter Lizzie, and Lizzie’s feelings about her father, who is mostly absent from her life.

The sense of foreboding at the end of this passage adds to the suspense that weaves itself throughout the novel.
Visit Karen E. Olson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 1, 2024

"The Monstrous Misses Mai"

Van Hoang’s first name is pronounced like the “van” in “minivan.” Her last name is pronounced “hah-wawng.” Hoang earned her bachelor’s in English at the University of New Mexico and her master’s in library information science at San José State University. She was born in Vietnam; grew up in Orange County, California; and now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, kid, and two dogs.

Hoang applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Monstrous Misses Mai, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Nothing good comes for free,” Audrey announced in a voice so full of doom, they all turned and stared at her. “What? It’s true.”

“On the contrary,” Callum said, “all the best things in life are free.”

Tessa snorted.

“You don’t believe me?” Callum stood up. “All right, it’s time to show you ladies that I mean business. Come on. We need”--he looked around the apartment–”candles. A bowl. Some of your most sentimental items.”

Cordi finished the last of her sandwich, wishing she had more.

“Come on, chop-chop.” Callum clapped twice, and despite herself, she got up from the table. The others did as well, looking mildly amused. Callum rubbed his hands together. “Let’s make some magic.”
This is actually a perfect moment to browse the book because it’s a pivotal plot point that doesn’t give away too much. The main characters have just discussed all their goals for their lives, expressing how much they long for their wishes to come true, when Callum offers everything they’ve ever wanted through a simple magic spell. It seems too good to be true. But they take a chance, and are about to embark on a magical adventure, their hearts full of hopes and dreams for the future.

I also really love this page because it’s the first time the Misses Mai all hang out as friends--and the first moment that they realize they’re in this together. They’re about to become accidental witches, all just to pay rent, but at least they have one another, no matter how bad things are about to get.
Visit Van Hoang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue